/* Google tools*/

Chinese scholar cabinet with carving and calligraphy

19th century

Origin: Shanxi province

  • purple elm
  • 940mm wide x 510mm deep x 1680mm high

This is a very rare cabinet with its combination of carving, calligraphy and painting. It would have stood proudly in a scholar’s studio, much used and admired.

The calligraphy is two lines of a poem by Meng Haoran, a famous Tang dynasty poet. The poem is about a visit he made to see a scholar official friend only to discover he was charged with a crime and exiled. While the place of exile is relatively comfortable Meng worries that it cannot be the same as being home. At its heart the poem is about the value of true friendship.

The carving on the drawers is chrysanthemums and lotus, flowers that are associated with scholars. The painting is of peach blossoms and lotus.

More detail

The title of the poem is Visiting but not meeting Yuan Shiqian

I went to visit a genius in Luoyang;

Only to find he had been exiled to Jiang Ling;

I have heard that the plum blossoms flower early;

But Spring there can’t be as beautiful as home.

The chrysanthemum is a symbol of elegance and nobility, being the flower most closely associated with scholars. A famous poem by Tao Yuanming (365 C.E. - 427 C.E.) titled “Drinking Wine”, is about the chrysanthemum: "Pick a chrysanthemum near a fence and enjoy the mountain in the south at your leisure." It was written after resigning from his high official post and returned to the countryside.

The lotus lives in mud but the flower rises beautiful and clean. This is a metaphor for the person of pure mind whose thoughts are not distracted by the clamours of daily life. It is the clarity of mind scholars seek when working or practising their calligraphy. The lotus is also a symbol of long life as are peach blossoms.

The cabinet was made from purple elm, a darker, heavier and harder timber than northern elm and reserved for special pieces of furniture.